OrderPaperToday – As the National Assembly resumes from its Christmas break today, there is likelihood that the lawmakers may revisit the 774,000 jobs public works scheme that has been contentious between them and the Executive arm of government.
The latter has failed to heed to the resolutions of the former on the works scheme being undertaken by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) under the coordination of the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Productivity.
The 774,000 jobs scheme is aimed at providing palliative to unemployed persons in the country battling with acute joblessness. The interventionist programme, which was approved in October 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari, was specifically for 1,000 persons from all the 774 local government areas of the country for temporary employment during the dry season. N52 billion was earmarked for the programme. But the manner of implementation had pitched the ministry against the lawmakers with the latter severally taking on the former in and out of the hallowed chambers of plenary.
The Minister of State for Labour, Employment, and Productivity, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN) and members of the National Assembly had exchanged hot airs over the implementation of the scheme, especially regarding the mode of selection of beneficiaries. While the minister held on to his guns in directly dictating the selection of beneficiaries and general implementation, the National Assembly insisted that the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), an agency under the labour ministry, be left with full autonomy to implement.
A storm and a walk-out…
Appearing in an interactive session before the National Assembly Joint Committee on Labour and Employment on the 30th of June, 2020, Keyamo had stormed out of the meeting due to fierce altercations; and days after continued to exchange salvos over same issue. A trouble-shooting effort by Sen. Chris Ngige, senior minister in the ministry, to calm nerves did not yield positive results as both feuding parties dug in.
On another front, the Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives had issued a statement rejecting the 30 jobs slot given to each member of the House for the local government areas within their respective constituencies in the recruitment of beneficiaries.
In a response, the minister said that it was not the right of lawmakers to get job slots, but a privilege. Add that the persons selected were Nigerians and not foreigners.
“If they (lawmakers) read the mood of the nation, Nigerians correctly, they didn’t want these slots to be allocated to anybody, but what we try to do was to ensure that, since they have constituents just like the Christian Association of Nigeria, the National Union of Road Transport Workers, just like the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and the civil society, we also believe that they are Nigerians too, so it was just a privilege to nominate certain persons from their constituencies, it was not a right at all.
“At the end of the day, it is still from among their constituents they would still pick the beneficiaries from; they won’t go to Cameroon to pick them. Whether they accepted the slots or not is irrelevant because we are still going to pick 1,000 persons from each local government”.
Riding on his staunch position, Mr. Keyamo moved deftly with implementation and even got the President, his principal, to sack former Director General of the NDE, Nasir Argungu Ladan, whom the lawmakers had found as ally. The lawmakers called on the President to reverse the decision. The House of Representatives precisely, on the 15 of December 2020, adopted a motion urging President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately reinstate the sacked Director-General. The matter was brought under matters of urgent national importance by Olajide Olatunbosun (APC, Oyo). The motion was on the need to immediately suspend the public works scheme as the legislators disagreed with the minister over the selection process which made no role for the input of lawmakers. The members believed Mr. Argungu was victimized because he took side with them. While passing the motion, the lawmakers urged the Ministry of Finance not to release the funds meant for the exercise until the controversies surrounding it are sorted out.
It would be recalled also further that the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila had jointly issued a statement directing the federal government to halt the programme pending proper investigation into alleged irregularities.
According to a statement jointly signed by Mr. Benjamin Kalu and his counterpart in the Senate, Mr. Ajibola Basiru, “the implementation of the programme shall be on hold pending proper briefing of the National Assembly by the Minister of Labour and Productivity.
“The National Assembly will ensure transparency of the process just as done with the National Social Register by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and social Development.”
The big question is did the executive heed to the resolutions of the parliament? The answer is simply no because neither the the DG of NDE was reinstated and of course the ministry has gone ahead with the implementation process. Minister Keyamo launched the 774,000 jobs scheme with much fanfare a few weeks ago.
The opposition from members of the National Assembly did not stop the federal government from formally kick-starting the jobs scheme even if at the risk of a spite on the federal lawmakers. Thus, things might just turn sour between the two arms of government when the lawmakers resume business on Tuesday.